COLUMBUS, OH - Coming into the start of the 2007 season, the Columbus Clippers felt optimistic that a combination of young talent and experienced veterans could produce the right numbers to contend in the International League. Now two weeks into the season, the Clippers must regroup and gain back their confidence after an unexpected 4-10 start.
Team Record: 4-10, Fourth Place (West)
For Clippers fans, the visit to Cooper Stadium brings new faces and a new approach. Following the conclusion of the 2006 season, the New York Yankees moved in a different direction, coming to terms with Scranton-Wilkes Barre as their Triple-A affiliate starting in 2007. The Clippers, who stood outside looking in, signed a two-year contract with the Washington Nationals.
The new squad is hoping to get the fans approval, but after a rough start and disappointing home stand, the players are looking for better results. A lack of production at the plate has been the primary reason for the team’s slow start. Coming into Thursday’s night game with Durham, the Clippers were batting just .198 as a team, the worst percentage in the International League. In addition, the offense is averaging fewer than two runs per game. The cold temperatures and gusty winds have played a part in the batting struggles, but players and coaches won’t use that as an excuse.
The Clippers have shown improvement in many areas, but they can’t seem to put the offense and defense together each game. Strong performances by the starting rotation have been overlooked by the lack of run production. On the other hand, when the bats are popping, the bullpen starts to fall apart. For the remainder of the 2007 campaign, the Clippers need to find ways to put the offense and defense together.
Although the Columbus pitching staff has an ERA of 4.02, ninth in the league, the starting rotation have produced many quality outings. Despite a combined record of 0-5 for the starting rotation, the Clippers have featured three outstanding young arms. In seven combined starts, Felix Diaz, Emiliano Fruto, and Joel Hanrahan have allowed only twelve earned runs in 39 2/3 innings.
Coming out of the bullpen, Mike Bacsik, who finished the 2006 season 11-0 with Tucson, is off to another great start in 2007. In 4 appearances, Bacsik has allowed only one run and one walk in 10 1/3 innings while striking out 11 batters. Billy Traber and Winston Abreu have each made solid appearances and will be relied on heavily throughout the season.
In order for the wins to start piling up, the bats need to come alive quickly. Only eight players are batting above .200, including veteran Tony Batista, who is at .340. Larry Broadway, who spent spring training with the Nationals ball club competing for the open first base position, now finds himself struggling at the plate. Broadway, a career .284 hitter, is batting just .167 with 13 strikeouts. Appearing in all 13 games, Melvin Dorta has yet to find his rhythm at the plate, batting just .186.
At times, there have been collapses in the bullpen. Both Jermaine Van Buren and Marcos Yepez have struggled to find the right ingredients for a successful start of the season. If these pitchers can find their control, the bullpen could be a big factor for the remainder of the season.
Veteran Stepping Up:
Entering his 16th season, Tony Batista has faced his share of misfortunes and triumphs. The 33-year old third baseman signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals this past February. Batista spent the last eight years, ten in all, in the major leagues. Known as a consistent hitter with a good range, Batista has found playing time all around the infield for many major league ball clubs. As the Dominican Republic native gets older and a bit slower, it appears his bat speed and patience at the plate continues to progress. Batista improved his overall batting average to .326 after a great game Thursday night. Batista, who only needed a single for the cycle, went 3-for-4 with a homerun and two RBI. The veteran has taken the leadership role of this team, and his contributions to the Clippers could earn him a trip back to the majors.
Player to Watch For:
Kory Casto was recently optioned from Washington back down to Columbus. Casto, the Nationals’ two-time Minor League Player of the Year, joined the Clippers on Thursday. In 8 appearances this season with the Nationals organization, Casto went 5-for-29 with one RBI. In just his 5th season of professional baseball, the 25-year old shows great promise and has a bright future in front of him.
Up next for the Clippers:
The Clippers will wrap up their current home stand Friday when they play host to the Durham Bulls. They are currently 2-5 on this home stand. Saturday, they begin a five game road trip, including a stop at Charlotte for a short two game series before heading to Durham to face the Bulls Monday through Wednesday. The Clippers will arrive home next Friday for a ten game home stand. In the first series of the home stand, the Clippers will welcome former players and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, the new affiliate of the New York Yankees.